Ing Vannath didn't recognize the four Mekong giant catfish fry he snared seven years
ago along with about 1,500 other similar species until he had raised them for a year
in his pond.
The endangered fish look the same as regular catfish as young fry but can reach a
length of 3 meters and weigh 300 kg at maturity.
Mekong giant catfish are considered a sign of good luck and prosperity. Over the
years they have earned Vannath both.
The lucky fish also earned him a certificate of appreciation from the World Wildlife
Fund and the Department of Fisheries for his decision to return them to their natural
On June 15, the four giant fish - now weighing about 50 kg each and measuring 1.5
m from head to tail - were released at the junction of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers
in a ceremony presided over by Dr. Claude Martin, director general of WWF, and Chan
Sarun, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Martin said the release was a symbolic gesture, as he didn't think four fish would
make a big contribution to the wild population.
The Mekong giant catfish is listed as a critically endangered species. Scientists
estimate that its numbers have fallen by about 90 percent in the past two decades.
Threats to the catfish include dam construction, river navigation projects and over-fishing.
The Mekong giant catfish is a flagship species of the Living Mekong Programme, a
designation reserved for species which represent the biodiversity of an area. While
some might not see the charm in an enormous bottom feeding fish whose eyes are below
the level of its mouth, the fact that it is the largest freshwater fish in the world
is appealing to some.
Generally, giant catfish bred in captivity and released to the wild do not reproduce
or survive well. Nevertheless, Vannath's four have been tagged in the hope of monitoring
The event caused a splash with the media when a boat containing about 15 photographers
overturned, sending them and their expensive equipment into the murky depths. At
least one camera joined the released catfish at the bottom of the river.